Empowering self-direction in return to work of employees with low and high levels of education: A qualitative comparative study

N. Hoefsmit, Bart Pennings, I. Houkes*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review


Dutch legislation encourages active participation of employees in their return-to-work (RTW) process. Empowering leadership may support employees’ self-direction in this process (i.e. by allowing and enabling their involvement in decision-making).
Building upon a previous study, we aimed to study (1) how representatives of a university, i.e. an employer for employees with high levels of education (EH), manage RTW, (2) the similarities and differences between the RTW management of employers (or representatives thereof) of employees with low (EL) and high levels of education, and (3) the degree to which the employers’ roles resemble empowering leadership.
Qualitative methodology was applied. A thematic analysis of interview transcripts (rq1) was followed by a comparison of themes (rq2) and pattern matching (rq3).
(1) EH tend to engage in dialogue and accommodate their employees as much as possible. (2) EL and EH showed several similarities, such as aiming to meet legal requirements on RTW management. Compared to EL, EH tend to focus more on facilitating employees. (3) Empowering leadership seems to be more common among EH.
Compared to employees with low levels of education, those with high levels of education may be granted more opportunity to self-direct their RTW. The study results provide starting points for employers for employees with both low and high levels of education who aim to enable employees’ self-direction in RTW, and help them to develop empowering leadership styles.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)859-869
Number of pages11
JournalWORK-A Journal of Prevention Assessment & Rehabilitation
Issue number3
Early online date21 Nov 2022
Publication statusPublished - 24 Mar 2023


  • Sickness absence
  • educational level
  • empowering leadership
  • return to work
  • self-direction


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